Leaving the Institution—or Staying

My appointment was not renewed. Am I entitled to know the reasons for the decision?

Yes, you are. However, an institution might hesitate to provide a statement of reasons for nonreappointment to probationary faculty members. Those responsible may worry that if they give reasons for the nonreappointment, the institution may appear to have assumed the burden of demonstrating their validity. A notice of nonreappointment could thus become confused with a dismissal for cause, with the consequent risk of eroding the important distinction between tenure and probation. It is not at all difficult, however, to make clear in a college or university policy that a willingness to explain the basis for a nonrenewal decision carries no implication that the decision-making body must explain its decision.

Some have argued that faculty members should be kept in the dark because if they do not know the reasons for the nonreappointment, they will not have a basis for challenging those reasons in court—and therefore will be less likely to litigate. Even if this were true, reasons should be given as a matter of elementary fairness and professional courtesy.

Faculty members can be honestly unaware of the reasons for a negative decision. If informed of them, they might try to remedy shortcomings as they continue their careers. Moreover, because the individual should have the opportunity to request a review of the adverse decision or to appeal it, ignorance of the reasons for the decision would create serious difficulties in determining whether to initiate such a request and in presenting a case for review.

Finally, faculty members have long accepted the obligation to explain to students why they have received a low grade. It is unacceptable for an administration to decline to explain to faculty members why their careers at the institution have been ended.

The provost notified me last spring that my contract will not be renewed beyond the end of the current academic year. The review that led to the decision was marred by procedural errors, and the provost’s explanation for the decision was factually incorrect and biased. What can I do about these problems?

You should consider asking a faculty body not previously involved in evaluating the merits of your professional work to review your claim that you were treated unfairly or unjustly. Fairness to both you and the institution requires that you be afforded an opportunity for such a review when you request it. The possibility of a flawed review for reappointment should be of vital concern to the institution. When a complaint has been made, the faculty and the administration should want to determine whether substantial grounds exist for the allegation.

As for the appeal itself, you should become familiar with the rules under which the campus review procedures operate, and you should check immediately to see if there is a deadline for filing a petition for a review. You will have the burden during the appeal to prove that the review of your professional work was unfair; the members of the appeal committee, who should be members of the faculty, will assume that it was fair. After the committee concludes its deliberations about your case, it should provide copies of its report and recommendation to you, the appropriate administrative officers, and others concerned in the matter (for example, the chair of your department and the chair of the college’s promotion and tenure committee). Finally, although the appeal committee’s report and recommendation is not likely to be binding on the administration, the administration, consistent with principles of shared governance in academic institutions, should defer to the faculty’s position unless it has compelling reasons not to do so, in which case those reasons should be stated in detail.

A faculty appeal committee recommended three months ago that I be given a new tenure review because of procedural irregularities. The administration, however, rejected the committee’s recommendation one week before my appointment is to expire. Must I leave the institution in a week’s time?

An appeal of a denial of tenure typically gets under way toward the end of the sixth year of probationary service, that is, shortly after a faculty member learns of the adverse decision. Often, the appeal itself is heard in the fall semester of the seventh year; by the end of that semester, the entire appeal process is usually concluded. Before the appeal is filed, the faculty member will have been issued a terminal appointment for the seventh year. The filing of the appeal, it is worth noting, does not stay the effect of the terminal notice. That is because an appeal is a challenge to a decision that is assumed to be procedurally and substantively correct. The burden is on the faculty member to disprove the assumption, and the terminal notice remains in force unless the decision is reversed.

During the seventh year, the individual has the threefold task of attending to faculty responsibilities, pursuing the appeal, and seeking to relocate. The last of these tasks recognizes the reality that it is difficult to overturn a negative tenure decision. Planning for the future is therefore a sensible precaution against further disappointment. But concentrating on this task becomes much more difficult if the faculty appeal committee finds for the individual and the final (negative) disposition of the appeal is not reached until the clock on the terminal year is about to run out or has run out.

In a situation such as yours, you should not be required to leave the institution in a week’s time. Instead, the terminal-year appointment should be extended for another year (the extension would not in itself be grounds for a claim to attainment of tenure through length of service), thus providing a reasonable opportunity to seek a position elsewhere.

For the past four years, I have taught part time. I just received word from the department chair, two weeks before the new semester begins, that my contract will not be renewed because a full-time faculty member has been appointed to replace me and other part-time faculty. What do you say about how I was treated?

Part-time faculty members can be treated poorly in many ways: low salaries, no benefits, lack of security of employment, and negligible participation in institutional governance. But receiving notice that one’s contract has not been renewed just as a new semester is to begin is among the most harmful, both professionally and personally. Last-minute notice can seriously hamper re-entry into the academic market, creating economic hardships that are not easily remedied, because academic appointments are tied to the start of an academic year or term. In the AAUP’s view, because of the length of your service at the institution, you should have received notice a full semester in advance of the end of your appointment. Consequently, a request for payment of salary equal to the length of lateness of the notice would be appropriate. The administration will probably reject the request if it believes the notice was consistent with the college’s faculty rules. If you believe otherwise, or if you believe that your nonreappointment was unfair in some other way, you should have access to the college’s grievance procedure.

After teaching full time for twelve years in a non-tenure-track position, I have been told that in a year’s time my contract will not be renewed. Can you help me?

It is probably safe to say that your administration views the action against you as a nonreappointment. As a consequence, it would consider you entitled to no less, but certainly no more, advance notice of nonrenewal than that received by other full-time faculty members who have taught for far fewer years. In support of its position, the administration may point to contracts you signed that describe your position as not eligible for anything more than fair notice that your appointment would not be renewed.

The administration’s position is correct if the action against you is seen as a case of nonreappointment. The AAUP, however, has long held that all full-time faculty members, irrespective of their titles or the terms of their contracts, should either be tenured or on probation for tenure, except for those appointed under special circumstances (for example, temporary replacements for faculty who are on leave). Faculty members who serve beyond a maximum period of probation (typically seven years) are viewed by the AAUP as entitled through length of service to tenure’s safeguards.1   What are those safeguards? Most important in your case is the right to contest the stated reasons for the nonreappointment before a faculty hearing committee, with the burden of proof on the administration to demonstrate adequacy of cause for the proposed termination of your services.

You face an uphill struggle in persuading the administration to agree that it must prove why you should be released, but no other option seems likely to be more successful. Moreover, it is the academically right argument to make.


 1. For a discussion of the maximum probationary period, see question 3 above under Getting Started. Back to text.